ingathers only to disgorge

The poem is reservoir for anything, for everything, only to become font of life, love and loss.


recurrent words

Whitman: arm, beautiful, body, city, come, day, death, earth, eye, face, full, go, good, green, great, hand, hear, joy, know, land, life, light, long, look, love, make, man, night, old, pass, poem, real, rest, rise, sail, sea, see, ship, sing, soul, stand, strong, sun, take, thing, think, time, voice, war, woman, word, work, world, year, young

From Appendix B: "Words Most Used By Ten Poets,"
Josephine Miles, Eras and Modes In English Poetry (U. of California Press, 1957)


gathering floodtide

Some poems start with the force of a wave crashing, while with others we must allow the first few lines to slowly build the momentum of the poem, each passing line gathering the weight of more words taken up in the flow.


seed catalog

I know somewhere in my notebook there are few words waiting for the kind of attention that would have them flower into a full poem.


required letters

To write this poem, you’re almost going to need a new alphabet.


time sensitive

Different times different poems: A poem written late at night. A poem written at first light.


high-five rimes

Let’s just say his rhymes were so predictable and ringing that I thought of them as high-fiving one another.


second trial

Interestingly enough, the best words ever spoken of Howl were said at its obscenity trial in the moment of its emergence. During the second Eisenhower administration things were culturally very tight, and artists and critics, recovering from the McCarthy era, rushed to the defense of a poem attacked by the Establishment. Rarely has an unknown poem by an obscure poet known such high praise before it has been assessed by the scholarly community. But as soon as the trial was over and the battle won, a reverse set in. The poem began its work of effecting a critical reevaluation of the course of poetry, and the defensive reaction was intense. For a few years you could hardly find anyone who would say a good word for it, but gradually its liberating role was effected, and it has emerged as the guerdon of its generation.

—William Everson, Archetype West: The Pacific Coast as a Literary Region (Oyez, 1976)


faced with nothing

And then the page went limp as white cloth, floated up and settled over your face as though a shroud.


time and materials

Anything can be art, and some of it is.


azure free zone

[Philip Levine] was blunt and categorical in his statements. He introduced the class to Hemingway’s notion of a “shit detector.” He pointed to the use of “azure” in a student’s poem. “Question: When is the last time you heard the word ‘azure’?” A few students fidgeted uncomfortably. “Answer: The last time you did a crossword puzzle.”…Fake language made bad poems.

—Mark Levine, “Philip Levine,” in Remembering Poets, Poetry (March 2013)


terms of engagement

A good critic, particularly one who is a poet, puts his/her aesthetics aside in order to properly engage another poet on his/her own terms.


person of interest

Perhaps when we speak of ‘voice’ what we’re hearing through the language is the poet’s character. In ‘talk poetry’ what we too often get is caricature or the cartoon outline of a person behind the poem.


first reading

A poem is at its best in its first reading.


lower the volume

For the most part, good poets are humble not hortatory.


jolly roger

Poet, hoist high the pirate flag of your poem.


or at least saying

And poetry, to my understanding, is not about saying things, though obviously poems that have interesting things to say are more interesting than poems that don’t. And it is not quite accurate to say that they are about dramatizing the act of saying things or, in the case of an inward poetry, thinking things or, in a quicker and more visceral poetry, perceiving and sensing things. Or at least saying that poetry does these things only takes us partway into them. To go the rest of the way, one needs a formulation that somehow says that poetry inhabits the interior of the rhythm of its way of seeing, its way of dramatizing what it is to say a thing, or think it, or perceive it, or—taking writing as an act of painting—do it.

—Robert Hass, “On Teaching Poetry,” What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination, and the Natural World (Ecco, 2012)


roses that are looked at

"the roses / Had the look of flowers that are looked at." So goes a line from the "Burnt Norton" section of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets. For twenty years that line was in my mind as, "the roses had the look of roses that are looked at." Perhaps some Steinian involution had inflected my memory. I think I like my version better.


truth and beauty

The poet averred her sincerity and the truth of the poems when she read, but then I bought her new book and I saw that her author photo was at least ten years out of date.